Flash Back – Peter, I can’t Be Late Twice In One Day!

That was a favourite joke of my Jewish boss, Mr Rosen, in Elizabeth House, Ministry of Public Buildings and Works where I served my articleship towards the Final Examination of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors on three days of the week. My bosses and coworkers were mostly very pleasant. My departmental boss was not only pleasant but I found him a curious person. It was clear to me that he had heard many stories about black people but had not interacted closely with them. One day he asked, ‘Peter, your hair seems very different. Is it soft?’ On another day to my answer that I play music in my room in my spare time among other things he asked, ‘Don’t the neighbours complain?’ Of course my answer was that I don’t play it loud. Obviously he had heard that black people play their music very loud.

Each day of my articleship I woke early, walked the ten minutes to Streatham Hill bus station to catch the London Transport bus 59 or 159 to Waterloo passing through Brixton and was usually in the office by 7.30 am. Now Mr Rosen was a habitual late comer, usually at least one hour late. But at least one hour before official closing time he would put his things in his bag, get up rubbing his hands together and say. ‘Peter, I can’t be late twice in one day; late coming to work and late going home!’ He would then take his bag and leave. But he was a most friendly boss. After work I would normally go back to my digs the way I had come, either by bus 59 or 159.

On the other days of the week I attended classes in Brixton School of Building with Mr Day, an Indian, the main lecturer. Each weekday evening when I got home I took my table tennis kit and hurried to Estreham Table Tennis Club in an old church building in Streatham Hill. I was good enough to represent the club in the first division of the Wandsworth and District Table Tennis League. On Sundays I played Sunday Football for a club in the Sunday League also in Wandsworth.

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